Thursday, November 20, 2008

List By Invitation

Thom Ryan has tagged me with the current "alphabet meme" (or as the Siren calls it, "list by invitation".) Unlike last time I'm not interested in following all of its rules, precisely (for example, I'm not going to pass on this one for various reasons). But I appreciate being tagged, and I thought it would be fun to list 26 favorite films, one from each letter of the alphabet.

In an attempt to avoid agonizing about balancing long-cherished favorites with new discoveries, I've limited myself only to films I've seen in theatres so far in 2008. Each title provoked a strong reaction (even if it was not one I took time to record in written form) and made me rethink cinema, or at least an important corner of cinema in one or many ways. Most of them are great, classics or perhaps someday-to-be classics. One of the titles is actually probably the worst film I saw all year, but I saw it under (for me) unique and memorable circumstances. I'd seen a few before on home viewing technology, but most I'd never seen before at all. I will list the venues and any special circumstances of the screening in question after the film title, director and year of the film's release. All are 35mm prints shown in local venues unless noted.

Abraham's Valley (Manoel de Oliveira, 1993) Pacific Film Archive, Oliveira centennial tribute, September 28.

Baghead (Jay & Mark Duplass, 2008) Park City, Utah: Yarrow Hotel, Sundance Film Festival press screening, January 24.

Carriage Trade (Warren Sonbert, 1971) SF Camerawork 16mm screening presented by kino21, May 15.

Distant Voices, Still Lives (Terence Davies, 1988) Pacific Film Archive, Terence Davies in person, February 21.

Eat, For This Is My Body (Michelange Quay, 2007) Park City, Utah: Holiday Village Cinema, Sundance Film Festival public screening with Quay in person, January 18.

the Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2007) Kabuki Cinema, San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, March 16.

the Girl Can't Help It (Frank Tashlin, 1956) Pacific Film Archive, Tashlin retrospective, April 11.

Human Remains (Jay Rosenblatt, 1998) Roxie Cinema, digitally projected short presented at SF IndieFest, February 13.

I Was Born, But... (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) California Theatre, San Jose, Cinequest festival with Jim Riggs at the organ, February 29. (had seen before on VHS)

Jujiro (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1928) Castro Theatre, San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation with Stephen Horne at the piano and flute, July 13.

Kiriki, Japanese Acrobats (Segundo de Chomon, 1907) Balboa Theatre 82nd birthday celebration, digitally projected short with Frederick Hodges at the keyboard, February 27.

Lola Montès (Max Ophuls, 1955) Castro Theatre press screening, November 3. (had seen before on VHS)

My Sex Life... or How I Got Into an Argument (Arnaud Desplichin, 1996) Clay Theatre, French Cinema Now, October 11.

the Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955) Castro Theatre, tribute to United Artists, April 19. (had seen before on VHS)

Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007) Castro Theatre, 3rd i South Asian Film Festival screening, November 15.

Puzzle of a Downfall Child (Jerry Schaztburg, 1970) Pacific Film Archive presentation by Film on Film Foundation, September 28.

Quiet as Kept (Charles Burnett, 2007), Pacific Film Archive, digitally projected short, March 5.

the Romance of Astrea and Celadon (Eric Rohmer, 2007) Clay Theatre, San Francisco International Film Festival, May 7.

Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, 2007) Letterman Digital Arts Theatre, presented by San Francisco Film Society, Lee in person, January 9.

They All Laughed (Peter Bogdanovich, 1981) Castro Theatre, Bogdanovich in-person tribute, March 9.

the Unknown (Tod Browning, 1927) Castro Theatre, San Francisco Silent Film Festival presentation with Stephen Horne at the piano and Guy Maddin reciting intertitles, July 12. (had seen before on DVD)

Velvet Hustler (Toshio Masuda, 1967) Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, co-presentation with Outcast Cinema, April 13.

Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (Pedro Costa, 2001) Pacific Film Archive, Costa in person, March 6.

X-Files: I Want to Believe (Chris Carter, 2008) Alajuela, Costa Rica: CCM International cinema, August 5.

Yours Truly (Osbert Parker, 2007) Salt Lake City, Utah: Broadway Centre Cinema, Sundance Film Festival public screening, digitally projected short with Parker in person, January 19.

04_066 (dextro, 2003) Kabuki Cinema, San Francisco International Film Festival, digitally projected short, May 1.

Though I'm not officially passing the meme invitation to anyone in particular, please feel free to respond with a list or a quip as a comment if you are so moved.


  1. This must be the list with the most movies I have not yet seen on it. I suspect my rental queue will be growing soon. I commend you for bending the rules so that the meme better fits the parameters of your blog. I altered the rules too and now I don't feel so badly about it. The list also makes a convenient record of your eclectic viewing choices, Brian. And how sweet it is to see classics playing alongside the new contenders for that description.

  2. Holy shit, this must be the only one of these lists featuring Warren Sonbert. His name doesn't get brought up nearly enough, though it's understandable considering how difficult it can be to see any of his films. I still have strong memories of seeing a trio of his shorts (Friendly Witness, the early and uncharacteristic Amphetamine, and Whiplash) at a rare screening at my college cinema a while back. Amazing stuff, using avant-garde, formalist techniques to get at surprisingly rich and complex emotions. I really hope someone does him justice on DVD someday, a la the By Brakhage set, so more people can appreciate his brilliance.

  3. I like your approach, especially since your viewings are so eclectic. After a while, the memes all roll into one unless you get creative like this.

    I missed the Desplechin on the big screen when it played near me recently; a shame, because the DVD print is just terrible (the same is true of his more recent Kings and Queen). I don't usually get too worked up about print quality, so if I'm complaining there's a real problem...

  4. I hadn't looked at too many of these before writing my own up, but upon following some of the chains, I find that the lists which have been given extra parameters/rules to be the most interesting ones- yours included, Thom and Gareth.

    Though I think my main reason for going this route instead of listing "all-time" faves was probably just to avoid having to make a decision between Vertigo and Videodrome.

    Ed, the Sonbert was amazing. It was programmed as part of a larger set of screenings of his films in various venues around town, instigated by Konrad Steiner of kino21 and Johnny Ray Huston, film critic for the SF Bay Guardian. Unfortunately this was the only night I was able to go.

    And Gareth, seeing My Sex Life... on the big screen opened the door to a whole new appreciation for Desplechin (I had not been a fan of Kings and Queen). Since then I've revisited Esther Kahn on DVD, which I had not connected to at all on a previous try, and have swooned at his new a Christmas Tale. More on that one later...

  5. Michael Hawley11/22/08, 8:04 AM

    Of course I'm dying to know which one was "probably the worst film I saw all year," although I'm pretty sure I can guess.

  6. Michael Hawley11/22/08, 8:49 AM

    OK, you asked for it, Mr. Darr. Here's my list, using your same criteria. In some cases, I listed my 2nd choice so as not to duplicate your own selection (being that we swim in the same Bay Area pool). The I's, L's, M's, P's and S's were particularly tortuous choices. Contained in the list is MY worst movie of the year.

    ADVENTURES OF PRINCE ACHMED (1926, dir. Lotte Reiniger, SF Silent Film Festival)

    BATTLE FOR HADITHA (dir. Nick Broomfield, Roxie)

    CARNIVAL NIGHT (1956 dir. Eldar Ryazanov, PFA)

    DUCHESS OF LANGEAIS (dir. Jacques Rivette, Palm Springs International Film Festival)

    EXILES (1961 dir. Kent MacKenzie, Castro)

    FRAULEIN (dir. Andrea Staka, SF Film Society Kabuki Screen)

    GO GO TALES (dir. Abel Ferrara, SFIFF)

    HAMLET 2 (dir. Andrew Fleming, Metreon)

    I'M A CYBORG AND THAT'S OK (dir. Park Chan-wook, SFIAAFF)

    JAR CITY (dir. Baltasar Kormakur, Palm Springs)

    KATYN (dir. Andzej Wadja, Mill Valley press screening, listed by virtue of its being the only K-film I saw all year)

    LEON (dir. Santiago Otheguy, Frameline)

    MY FATHER, MY LORD (dir. David Volach, Palm Springs)

    NIGHTWATCHING (dir. Peter Greenaway, Palm Springs)

    OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES (dir. Michel Hazanavicius, Lumiere)

    PATTI SMITH: DREAM OF LIFE (dir. Steven Sebring, Lumiere with Patti Smith in person)

    RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (dir. Jonathan Demme, Embarcadero Cinema)

    SOLITARY FRAGMENTS (dir. Jaime Rosales, Palm Springs and SFIFF)

    TAKVA: A MAN'S FEAR OF GOD (dir. Ozer Kiziltan, Palm Springs)

    URBAN EXPLORERS (dir. Melody Gilbert, SF DocFest)

    VICTIMS OF SIN (1950 dir. Emilio Fernandez, PFA)

    WALTZ WITH BASHIR (dir. Ari Folman, SF Animation Film Festival)

    XXY (dir. Lucia Puenzo, Palm Springs)

    YOU, THE LIVING (dir. Roy Andersson, Palm Springs)

    ZIDANE: A 21ST CENTURY PORTRAIT (dir. Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts)

  7. I'm so glad I asked for it! Great list, Michael. Not that I can actually confirm much of it- though I was momentarily considering using your selections for 'A', 'C', and 'Y' myself, I've seen an embarrassingly small number of the others. Quite thankfully, your 'worst of the year' pick is not among the ones I've seen. 'K' was actually a tough call for me- I first had the Kid Brother down until I decided to cut any film I'd seen on the big screen before, and I also strongly considered another short film Kaleidoscope but decided I'd given a big enough share to the Silent Film Festival already.

    As for my own worst of the year, I bet your guess is the correct one. It's not a counterintuitive choice.

  8. Interesting list. How did you like Puzzle of a Downfall Child? That was the last movie I saw when I lived in NYC, seen at the now gone Bleeker Street Cinema, in a double feature with L'Eclisse.

    I'm still hoping to see the Rohmer and Secret Sunshine in some form in this lifetime.

  9. Brian, your criteria make this a very interesting exercise, so don't mind if I join the fun. Apparently I've got nothing in Q, X and Z -- I saw X-Files and XXY but not in theatres, others were completely blank.

    As with Michael, I tried to use the ones not already mentioned here, though I wouldn't call them second choices.

    All for free (2006) Sundance Kabuki, SFFS screen

    A Bright Summer Day (1991) The Clay, SFIAAFF

    The Class (2008) The Clay, French Cinema Now

    Dinner with the President: A Nation's Journey (2008) Egyptian Theatre, Sundance Film Festival

    The English Surgeon (2007) Sundance Kabuki, SFIFF

    The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) The Castro

    Glasses (2007) Sundance Kabuki, SFIFF

    Hollywood Chinese (2007) Sundance Kabuki

    Idiots and Angels (2008) Embarcadero Center Cinema, SF Animation Festival

    Jetsam (2007) Victoria Theatre, SF IndieFest

    Kung Fu Panda (2008) AMC Van Ness 1000 (The only K-movie...)

    Lady Jane (2008) Sundance Kabuki, SFIFF

    Mermaid (2007) Egyptian Theatre, SFF

    Not by Chance (2007) Sundance Kabuki, SFIFF

    Operation Filmmaker (2007) Roxie, SF DocFest

    Puujee (2007) Holiday Village Cinemas, SFF

    Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (2008) Holiday Village Cinemas, SFF

    Stranded: I Have Come From a Plane That Crashed into the Mountains (2007) Sundance Kabuki, SFIFF

    Timecrimes (2007) Egyptian Theatre, SFF

    Under the Bombs (2007) Sundance Kabuki, SFIFF

    The Visitor (2007) Eccles Center, SFF

    Woman on the Beach (2006) Sundance Kabuki, SFFS screen

    Yasukuni (2007) Holiday Village Cinemas, SFF

  10. Kaifu, thanks heaps for joining the listing-party. I can't really explain why neither of the two Edward Yang films I saw for the first time at this year's Asian American Film Festival made it to my own list- except to say that both Baghead and They All Laughed were tremendously enjoyable screening experiences. Looks like even though we attended a lot of the same venues, you saw a lot of stuff I didn't - though I really liked Timecrimes and Woman on the Beach for two.

    Peter, I was pretty blown away by Puzzle of a Downfall Child. Maybe felt a tad overlong by the last reel or two, but really a wonderful film, much better than I'd expected going in. A double-bill with L'Eclisse sounds divine. Sign me up. I'll cross my fingers that the Rohmer and Lee films find their way to Colorado.